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Rope Bridges and Roots

The older I get, the more I realize the truth of this statement: "The only thing constant in life is change."  It's inescapable.  In fact, this very moment, even the biochemical processes in our bodies are seeking to change us, to age us, to heal us, and to grow us.  Change can feel pretty overwhelming.  If you've followed this blog for any length of time, you know, I've seen some change in these last years.

This month marks 15 months at my current employer.  This is the longest I have been with a single employer outside of international missions.  Part of me is a bit embarrassed or repulsed by that stat, after all, I've been out of college for 7 years.  But another part of me is relieved, because for the first time ever, I'm not facing a life-altering change like a career move or new education program in the foreseeable future.  I finally have a sustainable life rhythm.  The funny part is, the last 15 months have felt closer to 15 weeks.  When you love your job, work isn't really work, is it?  It's a strong indicator that I've finally found my sweet spot.

But getting here wasn't an easy process, and honestly, it's taken the entirety of those seven years to start to make sense of God's hand in it all.  See, I earnestly believe that everything happens for a reason and that "everything works together for the good of those who love Jesus." (Romans 8:28)  But that passage of scripture might feel trite or even dismissive if you're in a hard season.  It doesn't explain why bad things happen to good people or why God allows senseless acts of foolishness and even violence to continuously occur.  I don't and probably won't have answers to those tough questions.  But here's what I've found answers to in my own life.

Four years ago, I came back to the US from Manila tired, ready for familiar American comforts, and aware that it was going to take a little while to "settle in again."  What I wasn't ready for was being let go from a job a month after arriving home, another month in the hometown scrambling to find work, and then nearly three years of multiple stressful part-time jobs for minimal pay and almost no community (or stability, really) in my every day life.  I was blindsided with the reality of job loss amidst cultural re-adaptation without financial stability or communal support.  Nothing prepares you for that quadruple whammy.  For a long while, I just felt stuck, like I couldn't get anything to finally give way and fall into place.  One of those many part-time jobs was at my current employer.  I expressed interest in wanting to be full-time later that year and was told no opportunity existed.  The rejection seemed to sort of re-open a wound.  And yet, in the midst of it, something in my gut told me, "You'll be back at New Life -- just wait and see."  It was painful to try and believe that sometimes because it seemed so far away and impossible.

After I was let go, I met with someone who also knew that place of employment that fired me in 2014 and discussed basically "why does God let stuff like this happen?"  He said, "Sometimes, God gives us what we pray for in seasons of transition just so that we'll let go of the last season.  Would you have been as eager and willing to move home from Manila if you didn't have that job?"  I joked that he hadn't seen how big the spiders were there, but then agreed -- no, I wouldn't have been as willing to go.  I wanted to know that God wasn't going to abandon me mid-transition.   Bingo.  Here I was, mid-transition again... and my only real choices are to completely fall off the deep-end and abandon my faith, or to choose to trust and just put one foot in front of the other everyday until the ground beneath you is solid again.  So, for the better part of three years, I did just that, somedays more successfully than others.  It felt a lot like walking on a rope bridge in the fog.

As I've pondered my rope bridge season, sometimes I wonder if we end up creating our own rope bridges -- like, maybe it wasn't entirely necessary, but God let us take the detour anyway.  And other times, I'm convinced that God knew every board in that bridge because He made it and He made me and He knew He'd meet me on the other side... Unless we stop walking and look down for a fresh reminder of how far up we are and helpless we would be if this plank faltered and we freeze mid-transition.

I think sometimes we get stuck in the middle of the rope bridge.  Not because we're bad people or because we're incapable of conquering difficulties, but because Fear is a dirty lying bully and Doubt and Insecurity are like the groupies on either side who wait until you stop walking to start jumping around and wriggling the rope bridge.  Their favorite line is, "But what if..."  The moment we stop walking through a transition or hard season, they catch up and start the taunting: "What if you made a mistake?  What if you aren't supposed to be here?  What if you gave up that job for another really crappy one?  What if it doesn't pay enough?  What if this all happens again?  What if so-and-so finds out how you failed?  Or -- what if nobody cares that you left?"  Dirty, rotten liars I tell you -- and they love to freak us out like bullies on a rope bridge.

So then, there's a choice to be made: how long are you going to stand here, looking downward, wavering from doubt, fear, and insecurity?  In my case, God was gracious enough to drop a couple books in my lap that gave me the fortitude to tell those bullies to buzz off so I could keep walking.  (Brene Brown, Beth Moore, and Christine Caine -- you are my heroes and a God-send for your works!) Not everyone is so fortunate.  But, eventually, you'll land on solid ground, and once you do, it's an adjustment just like anything else, but it's good.

This season at New Life has been incredible to watch unfold.  While I was walking my own rope bridge, they had a rope bridge season themselves.  I know now that the rejections of 2014 were really just protection from the mayhem that showed up in 2015 & 2016.  God knew and in His lovingkindness, He did not put me there even though rejection was an open wound.  But now, I'm on solid ground and so are they -- and we're standing on the same plot of land.  I am blown away by God's faithfulness to not just hear my prayers and answer, but to time it in such a way that displays His protection over me.

So now what?  We put down roots.  I don't really know how to do that, honestly.  This is uncharted waters for me -- in a really good way.  There are smaller benefits to it: I no longer wonder which grocery store carries the cheapest ice cream, I don't get lost in my neighborhood anymore, and I've managed to do all that without getting my car towed during a snow emergency.  Hallelujah!  But on a deeper level, there's a part of my heart that used to love to wander and dream and explore that's very okay with "here and now" becoming "now until God says otherwise."  It took 3 years, but I finally feel fully American again and I'm less ashamed of my Minnesota accent than every before.  I don't wonder if this is home (for now).  I know it.  (I mean, Heaven is my soul's home, but MN is the hometown now.)

You know what's funny, though?  Those stupid bullies from the rope bridge?  They have no life -- they're really just stalkers.  In as much as I would love to say life is great all the time, Fear, Doubt, and Insecurity are like paparazzi -- they just can't leave us alone and are dying to capitalize on weak moments.  The difference is, there's no rope bridge now.  They can't shake me like they used to because I know where I stand and there are people around me ready to kick butt if those guys try to mess with me (or anyone of their friends).  When we put down roots by engaging in community, the things that used to shake me become white noise instead of real threats.  I don't have to worry about being okay or defending myself because I know both intellectually and through experience that God sees me, He knows me, and He's fighting for me, even when His idea of protection looks really different than what I had in mind.  And the longer you stay and put down roots, the harder it is for any storm of life to shake you.

But putting down roots takes a level of commitment -- and that's a word that scares people.  As a millennial, I understand my generation's aversion to commitment.  The divorce rate has been at 50% for our entire lives, meaning for SO many of us, we grew up bouncing between parent's houses with new step- relationships as well.  Additionally the economy has been nothing but turbulent since most of us entered the college and/or the workforce and the forecast isn't looking much better, but our student loan companies show no mercy.  We're living in an era where celebrity after hero after politician after household name is being accused and/or convicted of criminal activities that aren't just dishonest, they're outrightly harmful and there are years of stories left untold.  It's no surprise we struggle to go all in -- who is worthy of trust?  And then, there's the reality of actually creating relationships in your corner of the world.  It takes time and diligence and a lot of asking for do-over's when we mess up.  I'm not great at that, either, but I'm definitely better than I used to be.  It's a process and it takes a lot of diligence, but it's worth it.

And over time, roots lead to drawing deep water that sustains life and bears fruit that blesses others simply because you're doing what you're made to do.  You'll know you've landed where you're meant to be when putting down roots seems both practical and natural and it isn't hard to find sources of life-giving water.  The cherry on top is when others recognize, "This is an excellent spot for you to be you."  I told someone this week, "I'm fairly certain I am living my best life right now.  There are very, very few things that could be better and my life is so peaceful because the dust finally settled."  To God be the glory, because I tried SO hard to just "make it happen" on my own.  He's the only one who can put the pieces back together.

I don't know where you're at today.  You may be facing a transition that you're hoping will be quick and painless.  I hope you're right.  But if your transition turns into a rope bridge season, just remember, stopping only encourages the bullies and God already knows where you're meant to be rooted.  If you're on the bridge -- hang tight.  Hold fast to what is true and don't be afraid to call the bullies out for who they are. And whatever you do, don't jump.  It's not an escape and there's no undo button for that.  Just keep walking --it's okay if you cry, it's okay to feel mad, it's okay to not have all the answers and to admit that it freaks you out.  Just don't give up.  And, if you're on the other side, congratulations, now put down some roots so we can weather the next storm.

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